Last Updated on February 27, 2020.
I’ve owned the Zoom H2n for over a year now and It’s become my go device for when I’m recording my own acoustic guitar plus vocal tracks.
It’s got many features and settings available, plus it can be used as an Audio Interface while connected to a PC.
In this post I will try and give you all the information on how to use everything it has to offer, the right way! But first I will give you a quick overview of all its features.
Some general information about the Zoom H2n?
This handy device, is a stereo portable recorder that has the ability to record in X/Y, Mid-Side and 2- or 4-channel surround.
It comes with 5 built-in condenser microphones, two front ones for the X/Y config and three on the back, which are stacked on top of each other. One is facing straight to the back while the other two are positioned to the sides, these last three are used when engaging the Mid-Side setting.
Everything you record with these two settings is recorded on to a stereo track.
Combining all 5 of them creates the surround effect, which will be recorded to a single stereo track if you choose the 2-channel surround.
If you go with the 4-channel surround setting, then the front or X/Y mics, will be recorded to one stereo track, and the back or Mid-Side mics will be recorded to a different stereo track.
I will be going into more detail on how to use each of these options later on in the post.
A really nice feature is that it can be connected to your PC via a USB cable, which not only allows for quick data transfer, but also lets you use the Zoom H2n as an Audio Interface with the ability to record directly into a DAW.
With many on board effects such as Low-Cut, Compression and Limiting, the Zoom H2n will get you some of the best recordings even with extremely loud sounding sound sources.
Since it comes with a free Cubase License, I will assume that you are using that specific DAW and I will show you how to use certain plugins, such as the MS-decoder, in that DAW.
Of course, if you use something like Pro Tools, the steps would be almost identical.
Let’s get into the specifics and the controls of the Zoom H2n:
When looking at it from the top you will see;
The Microphone pattern selector, which has a little image showing how the sound will be picked up.
Just remember that the X/Y capsules are at the front while the Mid-Side ones are at the back of the recorder.
This means that if you plan on using the Mid-Side setting, you need to have the back of the H2n towards the sound source.
You can also see two indicators, one at the front and one at the back, which will light up depending on which setting you chose, and will intermittently flash on and off IF the recording is clipping/too hot.
When Taking a look at its right side we see;
The Menu button, the play button (which also works as “selector” to browse through the tracks and the settings), the Gain Knob, which goes from 0 all the way up to 10, and lastly the Power/Hold button.
One thing about the Hold setting; It won’t allow you to do ANYTHING, which is the point, except for changing the gain settings.
Now let’s take a look at the left side of the Zoom H2n;
There’s a line in jack, which comes in handy if you want to connect an external mic. You can connect a condenser microphone that requires 2.5v of power. This can be turned on or off in the Plug-in power option panel.
You have the volume controls, remote input, the line out or headphone jack, and finally the USB port.
At the front we see;
The record Button, a recording indicator which turns red if the device is recording and the black and white screen that shows the volume indicators, the recording format we are using, battery level, the selected recording pattern, etc.
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Now let’s have a look at Interface, Settings and Effects
Taking a look at the screen you will notice that you can see the level of the tracks, the mode you selected (X/Y, M/S, etc.) and the recording quality. For instance 44.1kHz/16bit.
There’s more information like play/record time, the name of the file you are playing, etc.
When Pressing the MENU button!
The first item on the list is, “Folder”.
This one lets you select in which folder you want to save the files you are going to record. The selection of folders will change depending on if you are recording in stereo or the 4-channel setting.
Next Item on the list is “File”.
Here you can see all the recorded files. When selecting a given file, you will have the option to;
See the whole information of it (Name, date of recording, length, format, etc.).
You can rename them and MP3 enconde them, which will convert WAV files into MP3.
The normalize option will raise the level of the recording so that the maximum level in the file is 0dB.
There is also the divide option which will divide a file into two, you just have to select where.
When clicking on the mark option, you will be able to see the marks that you may have created. (I’ll explain how to create them in the “record” section a bit further on).
Lastly you can either delete that single file you selected, or delete all!
Next one on the list is “Input”.
This is the most useful part in my opinion.
Here you will find the Low-Cut Filter, which sadly doesn’t allow you to switch between different configurations, can only be on or off.
The Comp/limiter configurations, which come with a General, Vocal and Drum compression Config. And a General, Concert and Studio limiter config.
Compression will decrease high levels and increase lower ones.
The Limiter reduces the high levels that exceed a set threshold.
The monitor option can be set to Home and Rec, always on or always off. The home and rec option will only allow for monitoring while recording and while you are at the Home Screen.
Through the Auto Gain option, you can Select the Concert option, which is for loud settings, the Solo option, which is aimed at acoustic performances and the Meeting option, which is best used for low volume sources.
Note: As soon as you choose an Auto Gain setting, the Mic Gain Dial will stop working. Also, this can’t be used at the same time as the Automatic recording function.
Last option in the input settings is the Plug-in Power one. Turning this one allows it do drive condenser microphones that use 2.5v power, that you connect into the 1/8’’ mini phone jack.
This just about covers the options under the Input menu.
The next one on the list are the “Rec” settings;
You can change the recording format: From 44.1kHz/16bit all the way up to 96kHz/24 bit. Except in 4-channel surround mode, this one doesn’t support 96kHz/16-24bits.
MP3 is also available, should you want your recordings not to take up as much storage.
Auto Record will allow you to automatically start recording after the sound level surpasses a certain threshold.
Pre Rec: Turning this option on will always record, deleting everything that is being recorded but keeping two seconds of it. Once you press the record button it will add those 2 seconds to your recording.
File Name: Will allow you to change between the default name which would be something like Zoom0001(XY).wav, or date name, which names it after the time of the recording.
Play key function: This will allow you to mark the files you are recording when hitting the play button, without pausing the recording.
You can set the recorder to pause when you add a mark during recording. This won’t work with MP3 files.
This is useful if you are recording a meeting or a podcast and you want to mark certain parts of the recording, allowing you to jump to those parts easily.
Spatial Audio: By using with a 360-degree camera, you can use your H2n as a 360-degree VR microphone for live streaming on Facebook and making 360-degree video for YouTube.
That’s it for the recording options.
Next one is pretty short and simple; Tools!
Here we find a Tuner and a metronome, pretty straight forward!
Now we have the System tab:
Here you can change the Date and time as well as the back light, display contrast, battery type, software version and you can do a full factory reset.
SD Card and USB Options;
Lastly you have the SD card and USB options, where you can choose to format the Card and to use the Recorder as an Audio Interface or as a standalone recorder.
Ok, now that we have the boring, yet important stuff out of the way… let’s get into the fun part!
Which microphone pattern and settings to choose?
Even though this is mostly a matter of preference, there are some situations where it might be best to choose one over the other.
I will go over four different situations;
Solo performance, ensemble (acoustic performance of 3 or 4 participants), live band/rehearsal recording and recording conversations/meetings/podcast.
In this case, the sound source will just be coming from one direction, the is absolutely no point in recording with the surround option, since it will only add to the ambient sound.
You should almost always use the X/Y setting. This is because the microphones will only pick up what is in front of them, ignoring ambient noise for the most part.
Your recording will sound present!
The Mid-side configuration can also be used in this case.
The basic difference between Mid-Side and X/Y is that, the “mid” microphone is facing the source directly, getting a mono image of it! The Side microphone (in the Zoom H2n’s case two microphones), face to the sides.
You can control the volume of the side signal, increasing or decreasing the width of the stereo image. This may add a bit more room sound than X/Y.
You have the ability to control this with the “play”button, if you push it upwards you DECREASE the side microphones level, if push it downwards you INCREASE it.
X/Y is also stereo and can be edited quite a lot, but it’s not as versatile.
Make sure, no matter which of the two you are using, to check the levels on each side. Both the right and left channel should be about even in volume.
I wrote an article on the differences between X/Y and Mid-Side, make sure to check it out!
Important note: In order to use the Mid-Side Decoding software properly, you need to record using the Mid-Side Raw format. This setting can also be selected using the “play” button, pushing it downwards.
You can download the Mid-Side Decoding Plugins from the Zoom website, which will allow you to control the Mid-Side configuration in Post.
Later in the post I will actually show you how to use it, with images.
The effects, like Compression, limiting, etc. shouldn’t really be used in this case.
Just set the gain properly and make sure that during the loudest part of what you are recording, the recorder doesn’t clip. I find that adding compression or a limiter, sometimes makes the recording sound a bit dead.
Just get the best recording you can and add all the effects in post.
I wrote an entire post on how to record acoustic guitar and vocals using just the Zoom H2n, plus some plugins you can use and how to use them (which are all FREE).
Note: While recording acoustic or classical Guitar with the Zoom H2n might be easy to do, if you’re truly looking for the best sounding alternative you should consider investing in some Stereo Pair Microphones.
These are the ones typically used to record acoustic guitars and they sound better.
Recording an ensemble:
In this case, there are many benefits to using the Mid-Side configuration over all the others.
First, you get a wider pick up pattern, since the X/Y is pretty narrow, 90 degrees.
Let’s say you have three musicians, one positioned in front of the recorder while the other two are positioned at the sides.
With Mid-Side you will be able to record them all perfectly, plus you can emphasize or de-emphasize certain parts of the song, by increasing or lower the volume on the side mics.
By this I mean that if the musician standing in the middle has to play a solo, by lowering the side mics a bit, you automatically make him sound more present.
If you have a lot more musicians, you could use the surround option and place the recorder in the middle, but I personally don’t like it as much.
Should you add Compression or Limiting?
I don’t think there is much of a difference when recording an ensemble and a solo acoustic performance, IF the people playing know how to keep the dynamics as they should be, and not suddenly get a spike in volume, etc.
IF that happens, then sure! Add some slight compression, but like I stated earlier, you will be much better off adding those effects in post!
Recording a live band or rehearsal:
Usually you will record a band, while facing the Zoom H2n towards it. Very rarely will you have to set it up in the center of the band.
In that case go with the X/Y configuration.
If there is no other alternative, but to place the microphone in the middle of all the band members, go with 4-channel surround, since it will be a bit more editable than 2-channel surround.
One important tip for recording bands, especially when they are extremely loud is to, go to the comp/limiter options and choose the Drum compressor.
After that, turn the gain all the way down to zero… yes, ZERO.
This is a great trick for really loud situations, which won’t get your tracks distorted and they will always sound good.
Recording a conversation/meetings/podcast:
In this particular case, if you have many guests, or if it’s just two but you are sitting on opposite sides of the table, go with any of the surround options.
You could add some compression mainly to keep the level the same, since it will not only compress the louder volumes but also raise the lower ones.
Use the Zoom H2n on a camera:
If you need to record a video with live audio, the Zoom H2n can do this for you. You will probably need to buy a camera mount for it, but it’s totally worth it if you want a better recording quality than what the camera’s built-in microphone can do, plus they aren’t expensive at all!
It is also recommended that any professional video production have a backup audio plan in case something goes wrong during production, which sometimes might go unnoticed until editing… then it’s already too late!
How to transfer the files to you PC:
You have two options here;
Either connect the Zoom H2n to the PC using a USB cable. It will ask you how you want to use it. In this case you should choose the SD Card Reader option.
After this it will be accessible through “My PC” just like any other storage unit.
Or the other option would be to remove the SD card from the bottom and inserting it into an SD card reader.
How to use the Zoom H2n as an Audio Interface:
Connect it to the PC using a USB cable. Next Open Cubase (which comes with the recorder for free). If you use another DAW this shouldn’t be an issue.
Click on “Studio” and go to Studio Setup. Next click on VST Audio System and Select Zoom H and F series Asio as your driver.
And that’s it! You can now use it to record, being able to change between all recording modes, changing the gain, etc.
For playback you have two options; listen through the headphone output of the H2n or you can change the settings in windows;
Simply select the speakers for playback instead of the H2n and make sure that the H2n is the default recording device…
This is a cool plugin you can download from the official Zoom H2n site, it allows you to adjust the stereo width of the Mid-Side recording you just did.
Once you have a track recorded with the Mid-Side setting, just go to the mixing console (F3 in Cubase), click on inserts and add the Plugin to the chain.
It’s fairly simple to use, only two faders, one for the Mid microphone’s volume and one for the side ones. There is a visual representation to the side, showing you how much of a stereo image you are getting.
Important note: In order to use the Mid-Side Decoding software properly, you need to record using the Mid-Side Raw format.
I Use this recorder a lot for playing outside, since it’s so portable and light!
If you are trying to record some songs outdoors but you keep getting those annoying wind plosions/noises in the recordings, check this article I wrote on how you can avoid them!
The Zoom H2n is fairly easy to use, you shouldn’t have a hard time getting some great sounds out of it!
Just make sure to choose the most appropriate Mic Setting that meet your needs and have fun recording!
And don’t forget to play around with the Mid-Side Setting and with the Decoding Plugin, you can generate some cool stuff with them!
Anyway, I hope this was useful! See you on the next one!